COVID-19 Has Amplified the Effects of the Childcare Crisis

Written by Brooke Krehbiel, Undergraduate Pre-Med, Wellesley University on 02/26/2021

America faces a child care crisis. Employment conditions for child care workers are difficult in the best of times. In 2019, 86% of primary child care providers reported that childcare issues negatively affected their commitment to their careers. With COVID, a fear of their own personal health and the potential to expose their family members to the virus only compounds the difficulty workers face each day--stressed parents, long hours, a shortage of trained care workers, all for low wages. Such challenges lead to revenue reductions for both employers and employees. Once COVID recovery commences, federal and state support is essential to aid in rebuilding the child care industry, a vital requirement for restoring the country’s economic health.

COVID momentarily stands in the way of national economic recovery. In the short run, jobs in retail, hospitality, and entertainment are gone and many people are now working remotely. Businesses, including childcare facilities, are closed, and families now face a new set of challenges. Many parents typically depend on schools, daycares, and family members to provide for their children. Absent these institutions, families are being forced to juggle both the responsibilities of childcare and their professions. In fact, 80% of parents reported that they planned to both work remotely and provide childcare for their children in the 2020-2021 academic year.

Over the last decade women have been dropping out of the labor market due to low wages and the need to care for families. In 2019, Only 4% of employers offered subsidized child care programs to their employees, and a small number of employers offered non-subsidized child care programs (about 4%) or child care referral services (about 11%). At the beginning of the Pandemic, unemployment rates reached 12% for men and 14% for women. During the COVID-19 Pandemic, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “there were 2.2 million fewer women in the labor force in September 2020 than there were in September a year earlier.” Eight months into the health crisis, Women’s unemployment rates remain higher than men’s given their multifaceted roles as caregivers and wage earners.

The child care crisis preceded the onset of COVID as families faced challenges related to wage earner work schedules. The mismatch between days worked, school days, and vacation time place a special burden on households with children. The average number of vacation days granted to American workers is far lower than the typical number of vacation days children receive in an academic year. Kids are generally out of school for 29 days during the school year, which surpasses the average annual number of vacation days granted to working Americans. Despite estimates showing that 40% of families have children under the age of 18 living at home, only 17% of workers had access to paid family leave. Data suggests that both men and women are impacted by child care shortages, however, women are impacted at higher rates.

Once vaccines become widely available, and a semblance of labor market normalcy returns, unless the problem of child care scarcity resolves, women’s labor force participation rates are unlikely to return to pre-COVID levels. American women are increasingly leaving the workforce because the global pandemic has exacerbated challenges related to childcare access and affordability. This troubling trend is a symptom of a larger problem: employers and government officials are underfunding childcare programs, and minimum wage jobs are insufficient to cover the costs of quality childcare. Few working families can afford to have a second wage-earner out of the labor market, but childcare costs require a second earner to make at least $16,000 before it makes sense to return. Although some companies offer additional leaves of absence to parents struggling to find childcare during the Pandemic, such programs are not universally available. Women continue to sacrifice their personal and professional goals for the sake of family. It is time for employers to meet women where they are.


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